Yesterday, while driving to the library for storytime (one of our usual weekend activities), Lily declared from the backseat, “I’m going to be a singer when I grow up!”
“Oh, really?” I responded.
“I thought you wanted to be a teacher,” I said. She’s told me about her grown up dreams of wanting to be a teacher, then an illustrator, and now, a performer, all without me ever asking.
“Well, I do,” she said.
“You can’t be a teacher and a singer,” I told her. “How are you supposed to teach and sing?”
“I can be a teacher during the day,” she responded. “Then, after I’m done teaching, I can go to the theater and sing and dance!” She said this with the gleeful exuberance of a six-year-old daydreaming about multiple jobs as a lifestyle choice, not knowing that this concept is called a “side hustle,” something that my generation does quite a bit in order to be able to support themselves, sometimes by choice, but usually not. Of course, her dream of performing on the side, during off-school hours, are simply that — a passion.
“We’re going to be on the radio, TV, and phone!” she continued.
Images of Destiny’s Child and TLC flashed in my mind. “Oh, you mean you want to sing with a group?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said. “We’re going to be called The Sweet Girls!”
My daughter has the biggest imagination sometimes. She conjures up names, places, and things and puts them together in a story that makes it sound like anything is possible. I remember as a child, I had an active imagination too, but while hers involve future activities, mine was more on the present. I’d imagine the roles that I have along with the roles that the boys I was playing House with would have, and what we’d do in order to run the house smoothly. And whenever I’d play with dolls, I’d dress them up in pretty clothes and imagine them in certain situations.
Recently, I read an article by Adam Grant, one of the greatest organizational psychologists of our time, in the New York Times called, “Stop Asking Kids What They Want to Be When They Grow Up,” in which he outlined his reasons for why we, as adults, should stay away from asking this cliche’d question. I definitely agree with what he said — about how we’re limiting our children to think only in the scope of careers whenever we ask this question. Sure, it’s cute when a child tells you that he wants to be a firefighter. What little boy doesn’t want to be a firefighter? And what little girl doesn’t want to be a princess? But as we all know, not everyone can be a firefighter, and not everyone is born as a princess.
To my knowledge, I’ve never once asked Lily what she wanted to be when she grows up. (If I did, we didn’t go into detail about it). She’s always been the one telling me instead. I think it’s important to have dreams, even grandiose ones, and that’s why I’m recording it here — that as a six-year-old, my daughter wants to be a teacher and a singer — so that when she grows up and becomes a doctor, lawyer, zoologist, accountant, nurse, engineer, or anything else that is not even close to performing (or teaching) she will have a record of the dreams she once had. Part of my parenting philosophy is to record the moments, but like Adam Grant, I don’t prefer to ask my children the age old question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” because to me, it doesn’t really matter. What they end up being is of their own volition, as long as they’re truly happy.
Like many parents, I want success for my kids, but I’m certainly not going to tell them that they can be anything they want to be either. I think that’s one of the worst things you can tell a little kid. I want them to be able to figure out that dreams are only a small string of what will hold you together when things go awry — when your dreams don’t become a reality, when your expectations are not met, when failure happens. Dreams will propel you far, but it won’t take you to the end. Commitment, grit (the unwillingness to give up), and connections will take you much further.